#33 - The Dialogue Games: Playing for Solutions
The best games are the ones where the suspense lasts until the final minutes. The players are each playing their best ever, keeping the ball in play as long as possible, maintaining their focus, and doing absolutely everything to ensure that one of their teammates scores that victorious goal. Five, 4, 3, 2, 1 …. the whistle blows. And after disputing such an intense game, players are proud of themselves, as they should be. Some may shed a tear when they lose, but all those engaged in the game respectfully shake hands with their worthy opponent, nodding in approval.
Keeping the game in play, persisting until a desired outcome is achieved with complete respect for all involved, are hallmarks of a game well played. And from what I've seen over the years, what happens between worthy players in organizations is, unfortunately, quite the opposite.
Instead of keeping the ball in play as they do their best thinking, organizational players will use disruptive tactics such as raising their voices to impose their point of view, or making statements that will cut another down to size, leaving everyone involved with feelings of shame and resentment.
Successful dialogues require the same thoughtful approach as a game played at the highest level. You go in well prepared, ready to wholeheartedly engage, with the goal of keeping the ball in play as long as possible until a solution is hatched! The disagreement may be strong and the verbal exchanges heated. The temptation to walk out in shame and blame may very well be hard to resist, but resist you can, and this is how:
“What I just heard you say is raising my hackles (observation, feeling)! If we don’t fix this, we all lose (thought). I want to put some folks to work on mapping and improving the process (want). Are you willing to send one or two of your people? (a respectful request).”
If I put it that way, it’s much harder for my adversary to come back with accusations, or for me to walk off the field.
In the heat of the organizational game, you may not be able to clearly express what you observe, feel, think and want right away. The first step I take in emotionally charged situations is to take a time out. “I hear you, I’ll come back to you when I am ready”. The time out usually helps me process the emotions and come back to the conversation focused and ready to engage. Here’s another example: “I am upset, and think you’re as upset as I am with missing this deadline (feeling, thought). We could play the blame game, or we could look for solutions (thought, want). Together. What are your thoughts? ……(a respectful request)”.
In summary, here as some tactics that can help keep the game in play:
Continue to observe the games you find yourself playing and keep learning!
- Acknowledge the impact of what you heard or saw.
- Call a time out to get centered, and then engage.
- Throw the ball back by surfacing your thought, feeling and want.
- Leave some room for the other player to express himself.
- Be ready to learn from the other.
- Continue to up the game by sharing thoughts, feelings and wants, right here, right now.
- Stay in the game until you can build a bridge.